MILTON, Ga. — The Milton City Council approved several zoning modifications for Birmingham Crossroads music venue Matilda’s at its Sept. 23 meeting.
The changes include an increase to the number of attendees allowed at each concert and a decrease in the allowable noise level. The council also paved the way for the venue to add additional parking through variance requests. The council voted 5-0 in favor of the changes with Laura Bentley recused and Joe Longoria absent.
A major point of discussion among the council and residents who spoke at the meeting related to the venue’s noise levels, a contentious point when the city approved the relocation of Matilda’s more than a year ago.
While the venue has complied to its 75-decibel limit for continuous noise under its special use permit, the council chose to lower the limit to 70 decibels at last week’s meeting.
Through an open records request obtained by Appen Media Group, Milton Police fielded seven noise complaint calls from May 25 to July 13 at Matilda’s. According to city officials, Matilda’s did not exceed its permitted 75 decibel limit at adjacent property lines when police were called to investigate.
The city also contracted acoustics and vibration consultant firm Ballentine Walker Smith Inc. to conduct an independent noise evaluation during recent concerts. In a letter to the city, the company said Matilda’s was “fully compliant” with Milton’s limit of 75 decibels at the site’s property lines during an Aug. 31 concert.
The report said noise levels at a nearby farm on Birmingham Road and the Breamridge subdivision were “much lower” than the 75-decibel limit. The highest recording, 62 decibels, was taken at a residential property east of Matilda’s, an increase of 11 decibels over previously recorded ambient noise.
However, City Manager Steve Krokoff said the city has recorded levels as high as 76 decibels at other locations.
The letter also stated that while Matilda’s is compliant, sound is subjective and that “even sounds in this range may disturb certain individuals.”
The acoustic firm did suggest Milton change the language in the special use permit from continuous noise to “peak” sound. However, the council did not make the change after discussing the impacts the change could have to enforcement and the city’s six-month review of Matilda’s.
The review was put into place when the city greenlit the relocation of the venue with the intention of measuring the impact of Matilda’s to its neighbors six months after its first concert. The council is set to discuss the business’ impacts at a work session this November.
However, council members took the opportunity to lower the noise limit while a zoning modification was before them, a privilege they would not be afforded in a work session.
Mayor Joe Lockwood said he favored changing the decibel limit now rather than waiting for the work session.
“As far as the review, I’d be willing to bet the same people who have spoken in favor and the same people who have spoken against would probably be here at a six-month review,” Lockwood said. “And maybe I’m taking a common sense approach at them, but why do we want to make the business owner, the property owner as well as the folks who have a concern to come back out here when we do have some leeway with a zoning issue.”
But Councilman Joe Longoria said Milton has moved the goalposts.
“I didn’t want to change the rules in the middle of the game, because now we are going to have to try and analyze results from two different data sets,” he said. “We are just creating an environment where we are going to get mixed results.”
While Longoria was OK with the changes, he said by adjusting the number of patrons allowed and the noise limits, the effectiveness of the upcoming review will be negated.
While Matilda’s will have to operate under more stringent noise regulations, the council greenlit the increase in concertgoers permitted at each performance.
When the city approved the relocation of Matilda’s last summer, it put a cap on the allowable number of attendees for each concert at 200, with two performances a year allowing up to 250 patrons.
After last week’s vote, Matilda’s can now allow up to 250 patrons at each concert and up to 300 at two concerts per season. The venue can hold up to 30 concerts from May 1 through Oct. 31 on Friday and Saturday nights from 7 to 11 p.m.
City staff recommended approval of the attendance increase and variances to increase the site’s parking on the west and northern section of the property. The council also followed staff’s lead by denying a request for the fence near the Hickory Flat Road frontage to infringe on the right of way. City staff said the fence, as is, impedes the sightline for drivers and recommended it either be removed or relocated.